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Fall Gardening a Time to Think Holistically


If you’re like many people you might think of fall as the end of the gardening and landscaping season: time to rake the leaves and clear out the veggie beds. That’s definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more to fall gardening than that.

It’s a good time to plant bulbs of course. It’s also a good time for planting trees and shrubs, and it may be the right time to set the stage –maybe even literally sow the seeds –for certain types of gardens or ecosystems.

Uli Lorimer, director of horticulture at the Native Plant Trust, formerly the New England Wild Flower Society, thinks that gardens are more than just a pretty landscape. “They are part of a larger whole in that increasingly we treat our gardens and the maintenance of our gardens with a much more holistic approach,” Lorimer said.

So instead of thinking short-term, Uli recommends thinking in terms of how the activities we do can benefit not just the plants, but also the insects and the wildlife and everything that’s connected to our landscapes.

That includes letting leaves lay where they may. Raking might be the most aesthetic thing to do in your neighbors’ eyes, but Uli says leaves are part of an important nutrient cycling. In fact, at the Native Plant Trust they don’t rake them. Leaves feed organisms in the soil and break down and provide available nutrients for spring plants to grow.  

If you do rake your leaves, it’s best to put those leaves in your flower bed rather than put them in a bag. “Keep as much of those resources on site as possible,” Lorimer said.  

Weeds are another topic that can be handled in a more nuanced approach. Lorimer says it’s important to first identify your weeds. Depending on whether they’re perennials or annuals will decide whether you cut or pull the plant. If you’re going to pull weeds, Lorimer recommends following up by planting something desirable in that spot and creating competition.

It’s also important to plant native plants as much as possible. Lortimer recommends the following for New England for planting this time of year: oaks, dogwoods, redbuds, and viburnums.

And as the season pushes on, try collecting seeds from native plants. Collecting seeds is an economical way to make sure you have more of the plants you like in your garden the next year.


Web content created by Liz Lerner. 

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